This post is sponsored by Sun-Maid®, but all opinions are my own.
I have a love-hate relationship with school lunches.
As far as the ‘hate’ part goes, it’s somehow the one thing I forget to do during our hectic night time routine, and without fail, just as I’m finally ready to go to bed I remember I haven’t made lunches yet. Then there is the monotony. By December, I’m so fried from a combination of work overload, the holidays, and the kids’ activities that I’m on auto pilot with their lunches. I take the easiest route, throw in whatever we have, and pack the same thing everyday. And trust me, I hear about it from the kids. Sometimes I don’t even need to hear about it, because their lunch boxes come home barely touched.
There is, despite all of this, part of me that finds putting together school lunches really fun. I enjoy the creative aspect of it. And after a couple of weeks off from making them over winter break, I’m feeling refreshed enough in general that my motivation to create fun lunches has returned. I’ve also recently discovered a few simple things that make putting together inspired lunches easy, and if all goes well, I’ll be able to carry this momentum through this second half of the school year. (Fingers crossed). Here is what works for me!
1. Create fun shapes.
My little ones are still young, but even if your kids are on the older side, it’s amazing what a cookie cutter can do. I bought several different shapes to use on sandwiches, cheese slices, and meats. I’m telling you, my daughter will scarf down a star shaped PB&J yet bring home an uneaten regular square sandwich. It’s amazing. (Bonus: you get to eat the pieces left over from the cookie cutters!) If you don’t have a cookie cutter, it’s easy to create a heart shaped sandwich with a knife.
2. Give lunch box raisins a sour punch.
Sun-Maid Raisins are a staple in most lunch boxes (since way back when I was a kid!), but when I discovered Sun-Maid® Sour Raisin Snacks at Target a few weeks ago and realized I could take the regular school lunch raisin up a notch (just like the lunches themselves!), I was stoked. As soon as my kids tasted them, they were stoked too! Made with whole fruits, Sun-Maid® Sour Raisin Snacks contain no added sugar, no synthetic colors, and are non-GMO and gluten-free. They’re also genuinely delicious and have become a go-to, better-for-you snack for everyone in our house. My daughter and I love the Strawberry variety, and my husband and son are mildly obsessed with Watermelon. The flavor is natural tasting and perfectly subtle, but with a fun sour punch. And they’re available now in the dried fruit section (and online!) at both Target and Walmart.
3. Kabob it.
Just like the star shaped sandwiches and cheese slices, if I give my daughter pieces of fruit on skewers rather than in a regular cup or bag, they’re devoured. And kabobs can be made from endless types of food. They’re actually quite fun to put together too. One of my son’s favorite after school snacks is mini kabobs we made from O type cereals and Sun-Maid® Sour Raisin Snacks on toothpicks.
4. Make food smile.
In addition to creating fun shapes out of my kids’ sandwiches, I like to give them an added bit of fun by making a simple face. Two Sun-Maid® Sour Raisin Snacks for eyes and a clementine orange slice mouth make a boring sandwich come to life. I also draw a happy face on a banana or orange with a marker and I’m telling you, it makes my kids so much more enthusiastic about eating their fruits and veggies.
5. Get the kids involved.
This is a win-win for me, because it solves the problem of me forgetting to make their lunches until right before my head hits the pillow, and because my kids tend to be more enthusiastic about choosing healthy foods and actually eating their lunches when they’ve helped prepare them. Essley gets a huge kick of cutting out her sandwiches with cookie cutters, and also loves choosing things like which flavor of Sun-Maid® Sour Raisin Snacks and what crunchy snack to include.
6. Switch it up.
I know what my kids like, and I know what foods are easiest for my to prepare, which makes it easy to fall into a school lunch rut. This ends up backfiring for all of us, because my kids get sick of eating the same thing everything, and I get sick of putting together cloned lunches. For the second half of the school year, I’ve been making sure to switch up their lunches everyday. This doesn’t mean I change everything I include from day to day (star sandwiches and Sun-Maid® Sour Raisin Snacks are everyday staples), but I change out at least half of the items and try to include as much variety as possible in a given week.
I hope these tips for refreshing your school lunches prove as helpful for you as they have for me! And if you have any other tips or ideas, I’d love to hear them.